Cultural Policy in Government

fourLINK Blog

Cultural Policy in Government

17th February 2016

During our cultural sector consulting work with several local, regional and national authorities, we had to investigate to see if they had their cultural policy in place, and furthermore check how it is working in the field.

Most cultural policies are made as "general" documents which is a type of summary of cultural institutions, cultural representatives, governmental and non-governmental bodies included in cultural life of a city or a region. It is seen as a summary, but also as a guidebook for a certain period that is aligned with the ruling government, but not necessarily the best cultural strategy. 

It is always a challenge when we are building up a project that requires proper cultural management, to detect all relevant stakeholders from our perspective. Although our work will see us being offered the cultural policy as an official document, if we want to get a bigger picture we have to go out in the field and reach those who are maybe not included, and therefore not considered relevant at that time in the official cultural policy.

It isn’t about avoiding the official documents, but to see the same cultural policy from a different perspective. There are many NGO’s that are included in taking part in cultural funds of some authorities, and not all of them have good quality programmes. Here we come to the question of cultural value and how to measure it. Is it possible to measure culture and what would be the methods to do that? First we have to think through what is a value and by doing that we are inevitably entering the field of economics.

When considering a value of something we are making a comparison with other things and in the end it is expressed in price. Value in the non-material sense of the word is a satisfaction level that will depend on our social/personal competence.

The question about valuing culture presumes economic valuation too. In practice, that would be a connection between cultural and the tourism sector. Proper valorisation of the cultural assets and then providing that cultural asset to the public usage, in order to commercialize it. There are usually problems because each sector is approaching this from their own point of view and perspective. That is where we come in; cultural managers whose goal is to build consensus and manage goods and people in the right direction.

The aim of this article is to get the insight into cultural management and cultural sector consulting of a cultural authority and within that, to discuss cultural value assessment and its manifestation in programmes, projects and funding. I had the experience to be a part of a cultural council where we discussed cultural programmes and budget allocation. It can be said that the evaluation of culture in local/regional management has a lot to do with perception of what is high and what is popular culture and a question of what is what, in that particular city/region will need in building up a cultural policy.

While cultural policy is a general document, it is also an identity stamp. It is a mirror of a cultural competence which has its manifestation in the approval of particular programmes. Let’s say that some cities with existing cultural infrastructure has its audience with high levels of cultural competence and some towns (usually smaller places) have partially built cultural infrastructure (one institution that is a cultural hub for that place, for example) with not necessarily a culturally competent audience.

Cultural policy should be seen as a live document for capturing the best cultural strategy, not just a road map down familiar paths but to communicate with the outside world. After all, that is culture. Building up the strategy in culture, i.e. to manage the culture, is of most importance for every modern society. The best cultural strategy has its impact on all sorts of social manifestations and it is one of the most important tools on how to improve quality of life.